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Saskatoon: More workers from community-based agencies funded by the Department of Social Services are filing formal wage discrimination complaints today with the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission.

The complaints by 37 group home and vocational training center workers employed by MacKenzie Society Ventures Inc. in Preeceville and Sturgis, and Citizens All in Moose Jaw are being filed on International Womens Day to highlight the discriminatory wages paid to employees in this female-dominated sector.

The human rights challenge began last October when more than 60 group home workers from Regina, Melville, Redvers and Moose Jaw filed wage discrimination complaints with the commission. The workers, members of the Canadian Union of Public Employees and the Saskatchewan Government and General Employees Union, are campaigning for equal pay with government employees for work of equal value.

The community-based workers want the provincial government to provide an additional $40 million to their agencies over three years, beginning with the budget expected later this month.

Veronica Erickson, a community integration worker at the Vocational Training Centre in Preeceville, says she decided to file the human rights complaint today because Im sick and tired of being paid such a pitifully poor wage for doing work that is so important in our community.

Ms. Erickson, a CUPE member, earned $5 an hour when she began working for the agency 10 years ago. Now, she makes $8.69 an hour. I have to work at a second job, in addition to that full-time one, just to keep my familys financial head above water.

The department has been getting away with paying us much less than government employees doing work of equal value for decades, says Joanne Mountney, a group home worker in Melville, who filed her complaint last fall. Were demanding the government end this discriminatory practice and pay us what were worth.

The complainants work for group homes and vocational training centres entirely funded by the department of social services. As part of its contract with community-based agencies, the government lays out the amount of money available for wages and benefits.

A 1998 wage study comparing jobs in the Saskatchewan public service with jobs in community-based agencies found group home workers were making about $8 an hour less for work of equal value.

Its a textbook example of pay discrimination against working women, says CUPE National President Judy Darcy, who joined the group home workers at todays Saskatoon news conference. Its a right. Its not fair. And it violates the human rights code.

CUPE, the countrys largest union, has been campaigning for years to improve womens wages and working conditions. This task has been particularly important in Saskatchewan, Ms Darcy says, where working women still dont have the protection of pay equity legislation.

International Womens Day marks womens struggle for equality. We clearly havent reached our destination yet, but the actions by our members in community-based agencies are bringing us closer to achieving that goal, she says.

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For more information call Beth Smillie at 306 535-7047